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Suicide bombing kills 19 in Pakistan

 ISLAMABAD, Feb 11 (DPA): A suicide bombing killed at least 19 people, including 11 policemen, in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border Wednesday, an official said.

The bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a vehicle carrying the policemen in the tribal district of Khyber along a main highway leading to Afghanistan, said Sajid Khan, an official of the local administration.

According to Khan, eight security personnel from the tribal police, locally called Khasadar Force, and five civilians died on the spot in the bombing, said Khan.

Among those killed was Zarmat Khan, an officer who was recently honoured with an award by the government for his efforts against Islamist insurgents.

Six more people - three policemen and three civilians - who were injured in the blast succumbed to their injured at a hospital hours later.

Khyber is plagued with Islamist militancy and has seen several deadly clashes between the Taliban fighters and government forces in the past. The rugged area hosts the main supply route for Western forces stationed in landlocked Afghanistan.

Separately, two Pakistani soldiers died in a helicopter crash Wednesday in the same district.

The servicemen were on board a two-seat Cobra helicopter gunship which came down because of an apparent technical fault in the district's Tirah valley.

"Aviation experts are investigating the helicopter crash, apparently caused by a technical failure," a military spokesman said.

However hours later, Taliban militants ambushed the convoy of a rescue team from Pakistan Army heading towards the scene of the crash, killing a brigadier and injuring two officers, said an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The officers were on their way to retrieve the bodies of those martyred in the helicopter crash," added the official.

A military transport helicopter crashed on the border of Khyber and Orazkzai, another lawless tribal district in July, killing at least 26 people.

Although the army again blamed a technical fault for the crash, Taliban militants claimed they shot the aircraft down. Media reports had put the toll as high as 41 in that incident.

Pakistani troops are currently involved in multiple operations against the Taliban across the tribal belt.

The US military has also intensified drone strikes in pursuit of al-Qaeda-linked fighters involved in December 30 suicide bombing at a base in Afghan province of Khost, which killed seven intelligence agents.

The militants have stepped up attacks on government, military and civilian targets in response to the offensives.

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